I admire gymnast Simone Biles for her courage and honesty. What she did was not simple, yet, how many of us would rather hide our struggle?
Imagine if you work hard toward something, a culminating event that will showcase your talent, your strengths, your diligence. A moment that the world is waiting to see you shine, a gold medal is almost guaranteed. You are the favorite. And then when the moment of truth comes, you simply cannot do it.
That moment when you stand in front of hundreds of people who are cheering you on, and you are expected to perform and you simply can’t. You back out. The majority of us do not compete for the Olympics, yet I will dare say that bowing out and backing away happens to many.
Have you ever worked toward something that was worthy only to feel completely overwhelmed by your mind? Simone experienced a mental health crisis and was courageous to seek help. Former Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps tweeted a video regarding his own vulnerability with mental health. These two gold metal champions shed light on a usually darken space—that being physically fit does not guarantee being mentally fit. That taking care of the outside of our appearance is not the entire approach to wellness. And this isn’t unique to athletes. We are all in this boat.
While mental health is a condition that needs to be addressed by health professionals, what this instance brough up for me is the importance of unpacking the attributes and tools for the practice of Mental Fitness, a growing field of coaching methodology based on the research by Shirzad Chamine, the author of the book Positive Intelligence.
Since I started my work as a Mental Fitness Positive Intelligence coach, I have witnessed our society developing ways to be our best at work so that we achieve and produce more, yet we do not attend to our mind/soul/emotions/feelings/behaviors, our internal wellness, our mental state. And this lack of attention creates a fragile façade which can crack in times when we need it the most.
The mysterious Hebrew language has taught me that lesson a long time ago. In Hebrew the word human is adam—as in Adam from the Garden of Eden. “Adam” consists of two syllables: a/dam. The A stands for the spirit within the human being, the place where our soul resides, where our spirit can be nourished. That is why it does not have a hard sound. It is open-ended just as spirituality is open-ended. This is where our Mental Fitness plays a role.
Dam, on the other hand, means blood, and it symbolizes the physicality of all humans. We all have blood cells, muscles, a body that functions in a certain way. That’s where physical fitness comes in.
So what is a human in its essence? A sum of the physical and mental. And each human being on this planet needs it to feel that they are complete!
Moving away from Olympic champions, how often do we prepare for something and then become overwhelmed with our own hesitations? With our own mind telling us “we can’t,” “we shouldn’t,” “we are not worthy,” “no one will want us?” Mental Fitness is the ability to look at challenges in our lives as opportunities; it’s the agility of our brains to view circumstances as positive and as building blocks to something that can be turned into a gift. We build Mental Fitness by creating new connections in our brain’s neuropathways. We identify and practice ways of training our brains to stop doing something that is not beneficial.
Have you ever noticed that the more you gossip, the more you will gossip? The more you are angry, the angrier you will be? And on the flip side, the more kind acts you perform, the kinder you will be? Or the more gratitude you show, the more grateful and joyful you become? Every thought trains our brains. Whatever we nourish our brains with becomes our fuel. Our thoughts and outlook can bring us to our knees in pain and suffering or elevate us onto waves of positivity. So how do we train our brains?
First, create an awareness. The fact that we did something in a certain way does not prove that it should be the only way. Be curious. Don’t let your brain rule the situation.
Understand that our thoughts impact our emotions, which impact our behavior and ultimately our performance, our daily living. In other words, our mindset. How mentally fit you want to be?
Second, Intercept and anticipate. If the first step is awareness, the second step is anticipating it and interrupting that cycle. How? In Positive Intelligence we call it PQ, Positive Intelligence Quotient. It measures the strength of your positive mental muscles versus the negative. PQ is used in measuring our mental fitness ability. The higher our PQ, the greater predictor of how happy we are and how well we perform to our potential. The practice of PQ involves breathing, connecting to your physicality, listening to faraway sounds and emptying your mind of distracting thoughts.
The third step is understanding that which sabotages us. We all have saboteurs that will interfere as we try to find new solutions. Our brain’s go-to approach is survival, protecting us from doing anything unfamiliar. Understanding that when we are experiencing fear, it is the saboteur’s way of “cornering us.” When you are aware of your saboteur (e.g., hyper controlling, hyper rational), you can overcome them.
What you want is to activate questions inviting contemplation and exploration. I refer to it as the widening of our “brain vision.” So often we think analytically and rationally. While there is a place for that in our lives, more benefit will be gained by awakening the sage part of our brain, the non-rational part of our being, which exists more on the right side of our brain. After a PQ session, try contemplating and exploring:
What else do I need to know about me and the situation before making any move?
How can I turn this thought into a gift and opportunity?
Can I cultivate empathy when this thought enters my mind?
Can I find curiosity and learn more about the situation which causes stress and fear?
Can I be creative in exploring venues that would bring me joy?
Can I sense/feel the joy that is hidden right now? Can my heart open up to it?
Can I invite my wiser older self into this scenario? What would she tell me? What meaning and purpose can I find?
What actions can I take today to move forward?
Mentally Fit and physically fit are the Ying and the Yang of living wholeheartedly, of living life knowing your worth and your contribution to this world. My logo on my website doricehorenstein.com has the tagline, “Where your inner champion awaits.” It’s not about wearing a gold medal around our necks. Rather, it is each and every one of us, working to reveal our core essence of who we are and who we can be– our true potential, the champion within!